Investment managers take note! We saw a slight market meltdown these last two days precipitated by a country whose economy is peripheral to the world, North Korea, but whose geopolitical importance matters to some of the world’s greatest powers: US, China, Russia and Japan.
July 2017, Choson Exchange organized 2-day workshop on Real Estate & Urban Development for 108 local participants in Pyongyang. We introduced the concept of Business Model Canvas as a lean tool to plan business and explain the role innovation plays in modern urban development, with examples from Vietnam, London and Singapore. Our workshop leaders also shared their experience in financial projection and investment strategy in managing real estate projects.
At our workshop on entrepreneurship in real estate in August, we came across a banking brochure in our hotel in the DPRK. The bank offers fixed deposit interest rates of 7-12% annualized for a range of foreign currencies including US Dollars, Euros and Chinese Yuan. We do not know in practice how this would work since we never visited the bank, and Koreans we talked to seemed skeptical about getting money back from banks.
We believe a startup incubator in DPR Korea can act as a focal point for access to mentorship, business networking, and knowledge. We believe such an incubator has the potential to catalyze the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country. We took first steps toward this idea in 2015, training four Koreans for four months at an incubator in Singapore. Last year, these Koreans joined our volunteers to mentor and coach seven startup teams in developing their ideas. The workshop was well-received, and while building the ecosystem is a slow process, we hope to develop a vibrant and fully-functioning incubator over the course of the coming years, and advance the cause of frontier entrepreneurship. While we expect 2017 and 2018 to be challenging years, we aim to continue organizing workshops to provide audiences in Korea with the business exposure lacking in the country.
Our YEN program has seen encouraging progress last year, with more than a dozen business ideas put together by local participants in collaboration with foreign volunteers who joined us on trips. We have increased the impact of our YEN programs by developing a more interactive workshop format that produces real, usable, solid business ideas. Choson Exchange programs have also provided a platform for local entrepreneurs to meet like-minded people from other parts of the country.
To better understand the changing urban landscape in DPR Korea, we collaborated with the Architectural Association to host a workshop focused on architecture and real estate, covering the intersection of entrepreneurship and infrastructure. Led by Choson Exchange colleague architect Calvin Chua, we shared best practices in infrastructure development from abroad, and gained insights into the sector in the country. We also frequently visited Unjong Park, a technology zone next to the city of Pyongsong, for consultations on developing facilities and regulations to support startups.
When we started preparing the first Women In Business program in DPR Korea, our idea to focus on female participants seemed strange to local partners. No exchange program of this kind, focusing on this demographic, existed. Asking for significant input on who would attend these events, aiming for a high rate of repeat participants, teaching business content to a majority-female audience — our partners did not think this was a good idea. Nonetheless, we pitched our vision, and pushed forward to build the very first initiative of this kind in the country.
Four committed Choson Exchange volunteers joined our trip to Pyongyang this month and talked about topics that are among the most pressing for many frontier entrepreneurs in North Korea: How to test business ideas quickly and effectively on a small budget, how to create a brand that resonates with customers in an increasingly competitive market, and how to use accounting to keep track of money in a company.
2016 was a tough year of tension and international policy changes. However, Choson Exchange continued to implement trainings and capacity-building programs, bringing the spirit and knowledge of frontier entrepreneurship to the DPR Korea.
Let's have a look at Choson Exchange Annual Report 2016 to review our work, achievements and future vision, in order to support the entrepreneurship in North Korea.
Jim Rogers, who co-founded legendary hedge fund Quantum with George Soros, once said in 2016: “North Korea today is where China was in 1981. Deng Xiaoping started opening up in ‘78. Most of us, including me, either weren’t aware of it or if we were aware of it. We ignored it, didn’t pay any attention. North Korea is doing that now.” North Korea’s Korea Foreign Investment and Economic Cooperation Committee (KFIECC - a mouthful!) published a new guide in 2016 on the business and investment environment in the country.